MM&I folds casino plan
A company poised to make tens of millions of dollars a year if it was awarded a controversial casinos deal has abandoned plans to be part of Bermuda’s gambling industry, The Royal Gazette can reveal.
MM&I Holdings was at the centre of an agreement with the Government that proposed a contract for at least a decade to provide a cashless gaming network system for any casinos that open on the island.
A special report by The Royal Gazette last year told how regulators raised concerns about people linked to the company’s associate, Florida-based Banyan Gaming.
John Tartaglia, of MM&I Holdings, said: “MM&I has never had a contract with Government or any other company or organisation in relation to gaming.
“And MM&I no longer have any interest in participating in the gaming industry in Bermuda.”
Ken Jarvis, chief executive of Banyan Gaming LLC, said: “I wish to state clearly that Banyan Gaming LLC has no intention of becoming involved in the Bermuda gaming industry.”
The Royal Gazette reported last October that MM&I had pledged to give most of its profits to “churches, community clubs, vulnerable citizens’ programmes, etc” and assured island residents it was “100 per cent committed to establishing a legacy for Bermuda” by delivering safe and responsible gaming.
The statements from the two firms come after speculation about whether either of them has links with the Progressive Labour Party government.
A memorandum of understanding reached with the former One Bermuda Alliance administration was terminated two years ago.
The declarations echo repeated assertions by Jamahl Simmons, the Minister of Economic Development and Tourism, that the PLP administration had not entered into an agreement with the companies.
It emerged last October that the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission feared an agreement was still on the table and the regulatory body had warned that individuals associated with Banyan had previously surrendered their gaming licences in two major gambling jurisdictions in the United States.
MM&I entered a non-exclusive memorandum of understanding in December 2013 with the Government, signed by the late Shawn Crockwell, who was then tourism minister, and witnessed by Mark Pettingill, who was Attorney-General.
The agreement, although not binding, laid the foundations for MM&I and Banyan to land a ten-year deal, with the option to renew for another ten years, that would reap 40 per cent of gross gaming revenue from all electronic gaming devices on the island, as well as an 8 per cent transaction fee on money exchanged for chips to use at dealer-operated tables.
A government Green Paper in 2010 estimated that casino gaming could generate potential gaming revenues of between $84 million and $146 million a year.
Around the same time, MM&I made a $30,000 donation towards a marketing campaign designed to persuade Bermudians to vote in favour of casino gaming in a planned referendum on the issue.
However, the OBA announced it would not hold the vote ten days after the agreement was signed and the Casino Gaming Act was passed in Parliament in December 2014.
The Government advertised for a qualified company to implement and operate a gaming network management system five months later, to which MM&I and Banyan made a joint application but the process went no further.
The initial agreement was terminated in July 2016 by new tourism minister Michael Fahy, on the recommendation of Richard Schuetz, who was then BCGC executive director.
Disclosures made under the Public Access to Information Act revealed that Deborah Blakeney, the commission’s lawyer, wrote to MM&I in May 2017 with questions about a firm previously run by Banyan’s then president Jason Seelig and his father and its “history of regulatory difficulties in markets” in which it was licensed.
Public records showed that a predecessor company, AC Coin & Slot, voluntarily surrendered its gaming licence in New Jersey, which made it ineligible to apply for another licence for five years.
She also asked about “fines and continued admonishments” imposed on AC Coin & Slot by Pennsylvania regulators for “failure to comply with the reporting requirements for the company’s financial statements”.
Ms Blakeney also questioned a list of referees provided to the Government by MM&I and Banyan because the written and verbal responses were “generally less than glowing”.
Banyan representatives were invited by the PLP, when in Opposition, to sit as panellists at a forum on “safe and responsible” gambling, which was held a day after Ms Blakeney contacted MM&I with her concerns.
MM&I, which listed Bermudians Mr Tartaglia and Michael Moniz as directors, issued a statement after the findings of the special investigation were published.
The firm said it would seek to earn a profit but added that “once MM&I reached the profit stage of its investment plan, 95 per cent of all profits would be donated to a government appointed Gaming Proceeds for Charity Committee.”
The company added: “We are also 100 per cent committed to establishing a legacy for Bermuda in that we implement a safe, responsible and controlled environment for gaming, including stringent anti-money laundering and vulnerable player controls.”
MM&I claimed its referees were never contacted by the BCGC.
The statement added: “It was always the understanding that any decision to have a central/cashless system in place would result in a proper tendering process.”
The company said: “We have always strived to do the right thing for Bermuda, as this is our home ... We are here to stay and make sure that Bermuda is not adversely impacted by the gaming industry.”
Michael Dunkley, the shadow national security minister, asked in the House of Assembly this month if the Government had “any arrangement, commitment or MOU” with MM&I.
Mr Dunkley said people involved with the company were in the gallery when amendments to the Banks and Deposit Companies Act 1999 were announced by the Premier in June.
Mr Simmons told him: “All I will say is repeat what we’ve said before, there is no relationship with MM&I in gaming, none.”
The minister said later a “full and formal update on gaming” to supplement information earlier provided in Parliament and through a broadcast news network “will be provided at the appropriate time”.
Mr Simmons added that “MM&I is a company with which the OBA government had a relationship”.